Make the most of your 12-hour layover in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport

Overnight or layover in a foreign city is a daunting concept. Traveling in a city you don’t know for 24 hours or less and trying to find out what can you do in a short time frame. Are you ready for Narita? Then, you can take on this challenge made for time-hungry travelers who try to squeeze in as many experiences as possible in a quick travel itinerary. The city of Narita rarely comes up in any relevant top 10 cities list in Japan, but it is changing now. You may not consider yourself lucky if your layover happens to be in Narita, but trust us, there are surprises that you don’t want to miss in this city.

Things to consider before traveling to Narita, Japan:

Language – Japanese (Nihongo) is the official language of Japan. For foreign visitors, the language barrier can be intense but this should not be a cause for concern. Every railway stations, bus stations and other transportation options have English signage. Even if you had any difficulty navigating, the Japanese people are very helpful to foreigners. There are also plenty of tourist information centre, usually located in JR offices. It is, however, recommended to learn a few words and phrases because this can go a very long way in Japan, just like in any other countries.

Currency exchange – Japanese Yen is the official currency of Japan. Cash remains king in the country. Even though Japan first popularized the use of “e-wallets”, majority of transactions are still through cash. But fret not, because exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in the Asia. You may transact with banks, foreign exchange bureaus and international airports. There are also plentiful of ATMs available throughout the country, so you will surely have easy access to cash.

Japanese Yen currency bills
Banknotes of the Japanese yen (Chookiat K /

Etiquette – The Japanese people are warm and very welcoming to foreign visitors but it’s important to remember some do’s and dont’s to enjoy a faux pas free journey. When entering temples or castles, it is always a must to take off your shoes. If there are rows of footwear by the door, it’s a clear sign to remove your shoes. If you are going to visit temples and shrines, remember to dress modestly. On trains and buses, it is considered rude to speak loudly or to speak on your phone.

Getting around – The city of Narita boasts world-class accessibility. JR Limited Express and Shinkansen trains connect major cities in Kanto to from Narita International Airport. There are also local and rapid trains which are directly connected to Narita City’s JR Narita Station and Keisei Narita Station, making it very convenient for sightseeing. Another great option when it comes to travelling is the city is by rental car. Because you only have 24 hours or less in the city, driving on your own will give you more freedom to explore at your own pace. There are plenty of outlets in Narita, which includes Toyota Rentacar, Orix Rentacar, Nissan Rentacar, Nippon Rentacar, and Times Car Rental. For more information, you may visit Narita International Airport’s website.

Accommodation – Narita and the surrounding cities boast a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. If you’re into cultural immersion, it is recommended to stay in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese style hotel or inn. Ryokans serve Japanese breakfast and dinner, which are often included in the rate that would normally range between 10,000 – 15,000 JPY per night per person. For budget travelers, capsule hotels (from 2,000 JPY per night) and hostels (from 2,500 JPY per night) are your best bet.  If you don’t plan to stay overnight and go straight to the airport after your layover tour, then you can store your luggage at the luggage counter of Narita International Airport Terminal 1 and 2. For more information, please visit the airport’s official website.

Make the most of your 12-hour layover in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport

Foreign Tourist Information Center (Terminal 1 and 2) should be your first destination after arrival. The official destination-marketing center for Japan provides wealth of services so that visitors can plan a great experience in the country. Friendly visitor information experts are always ready to answer your travel-related inquiries and to provide free maps and brochures.

Make your way to Hotel Nikko Narita for breakfast buffet at Serena Restaurant. Here, you’ll keep your energy levels high with their delicious Japanese and Western food, fruits and veggies, freshly squeezed juices and healthy drinks. The restaurant also has a Vitamin bar, which is a section in the buffet area full of vitamin jars.

Narita-san Shinshoji Temple, Narita, Japan
Narita-san Shinshoji Temple (EXZOZIS /

After breakfast, head straight to Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, a Buddhist temple complex built in 940 BC. It is said that the statue of the Buddhist Fudo Myoo deity is carved by Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Sect of Japanese Buddhism. Some of the temple buildings you can visit are the Great Pagoda of Peace and Shotoku Taishi Hall. While you’re here, you can also shop around Narita-san Omotesando, an old shopping street filled with stores selling traditional crafts and souvenirs, and restaurants. Beat the summer heat at Narita-san Park after shopping.

Narita-san Omotesando, Narita, Japan
Omote Sando Street stretches from the Naritasan Temple to the JR Narita station. The historic town is a popular destination located near Narita International Airport (Sasithorn S /

For lunch, head to Ramen Bayashi (533-9 Hanazaki-cho | 1F Komeya Bldg), one of the most popular ramen restaurants in Narita. The restaurant is said to be a favorite of flight crews who are stopping over at the airport. Make sure to try the local favorite, chili ramen and gyoza.

After lunch, stroll around Sawara Town, a beautifully preserved historical canal district. This small town overflowing with traditional Japanese atmosphere is filled with preserved traditional residences, merchant stores and warehouses. Its canal also features a number of old bridges. If you happen to be around July or October, then you’ll witness the town’s vibrant festival called Sawara Matsuri.

Sawara Town , Narita, Japan
The historical town of Sawara known as the “Little Edo” (LO Kin-hei /

With the time remaining, spend the afternoon at Katori Shrine. This shrine with a 2600 year history is one of the 3 main Jingu shrines in Japan. Don’t miss the spiritual spots that are placed all over the shrine like the Millenium Tree.

Katori Shrine, Katori, Narita, Japan
The Katori Shrine (香取神宮, Katori Jingū) (voyata /

Enjoy dinner at Kawatoyo Honten (386 Nakamachi, Narita 286-0027), a traditional Japanese restaurant specializing in eel (Unagi in Japanese). With over 100 years of culinary history, the restaurant remains to be a local’s favorite. Try their best selling dishe – the Tokujyou Unaju (extra supreme broiled eel with rice).

Unaju – broiled eel and rice (abc1234 /

If you are heading straight to the airport after your layover tour, then end the day at Narita International Airport Terminal 1 5F Observation Deck. This free observation deck provides excellent views of the city and airport grounds.

Have you had a long layover in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport? Share your tips and suggestions in the comment section below.

Featured image: Tokyo Narita Japan Airport Highway Road Sign (boscorelli /

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